The sun sets on the end of July.
The sun sets on the end of July.
Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.
Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.
Juneberries make the best pies in the world.
Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.
Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.
Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.
I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.
And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…
Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.
I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.
Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.
So that was a loss.
Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.
Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.
I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.
When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.
But we were both wrong.
At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.
It was crawling toward my butt crack.
Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…
Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…
A storm built up over us last night just as I was settling in to bed. The radar screamed red and flashed tornado warnings above our town while we sat in the house at the ranch, pressing our noses against the windows to watch the dark clouds skim past us, leaving nothing but some wind that bent the trees down pretty good, a little hail that poked some holes in my petunias and a headache from all my worrying.
It seemed the town, despite the tornado warning, fared ok. A few backyard trampolines were displaced, cars were dented, lawn chairs rearranged and what not, but that’s small potatoes compared to what could have been. After the tornado that ripped through an RV park in my hometown a few summers back, I think people are a little punchy about the summer weather.
And I have to admit so am I. I have seen too many close calls in my life.
Tonight was the definition of the calm after the storm. 60 degrees and still, the smell of cattle hanging in the air. The wildflowers poking up out of the cool ground. The sun setting golden on the grass, kissing it just the way I like.
I was feeling a little emotionally drained and frazzled after a long couple days of trying to comfort a baby who just wants to be happy, but dammit, she’s sprouted five teeth in a matter of a couple weeks. So I’ve been coping by snuggles and distracting her with walks outside to watch the dogs, and this morning, to chase a cow who had somehow mysteriously got into the yard. Edie thought it was funny how the old bag made a point of pooping during her entire walk to the exit, leaving a smelly string of lawn ornaments for me to pick up.
I know what her chore will be some day.
And if holding a baby on your hip while chasing a cow out of the yard isn’t multi-tasking enough, I’ve also found myself setting up an office in my car to get some work done, taking advantage of the fact that the baby fell asleep during the three minute drive to the other place to feed the calf.
This afternoon I was busted twice working in my car by my brother-in-law. Once behind my mom’s shop after a meeting in town and once on the hill before home. Because the baby’s gonna wake up once I open that door…and well, she’s got teeth to sprout and I’ve got shit to do.
But that reasoning is sort of hard to explain to a man who maybe thinks I’m a little kooky already…
Anyway, the time was right to take a walk. To see a little of my world from out behind the computer screen and bald baby head (bless her heart.)
This is my favorite time of year and it was my favorite time of day and it’s all so fleeting isn’t it?
That’s what makes it so especially beautiful I think…
I feel like making time to really see it is as important to me as breathing these days.
I think the same can be said with this baby and me.
Those stormy patches are rough, but oh so momentary too.
And the rest of it is a whirlwind of pretty damn special.
As the weather’s warmed up a bit, we finally get to spend some time outside. And it seems I was given the right baby because Edie loves it as much as I do.
And as much as the dogs it seems. Every time I put her in the carrier, eyes facing the world in front of her, she calms. She looks. She kicks her legs. She laughs at the dogs running in front of her. She looks up at the sky and smiles.
I wish it were spring and 70 here forever, and maybe that she would stay little, so that I could take her out like this every day.
A few weeks back on a pretty nice day (yeah, these photos are from a few weeks back…I’m not as quick on the updates as I used to be) Little Man came over to visit and we all went out on a walk, Little Man, Little Sister, Pops, Edie and I.
Little Man wore Husband’s cap to keep the sun from his eyes and Little Sister wore Edie because when she’s here the two are stuck together like glue.
Edie wore her hat and and sunglasses and other hat and snowsuit of course. Because it was warm but not that warm. And windy. And sunny. A typical North Dakota spring day and a girl’s gotta dress the part.
Pops grabbed a walking stick.
I grabbed a camera and we were off on a hike up the hill and past the dam and through the trees.
A hike that soon turned into an imaginary dinosaur hunt where we all got assignments and duties from the Pre-schooler.
Pops was the hunter, Little Man was the scientist, I was the photographer and Little Sister and Edie needed to be on the lookout.
Maybe when Little Man grows up he’ll be an actual scientist, but he’d also make a pretty good movie director.
And while we were hunting for bones we looked for spring.
The weeks that passed since taking this walk and taking these pictures has greened things up considerably. Edie has even gotten to go on a walk without her second hat and snowsuit, so summer’s just around the corner.
And I have so many things to say about spring out here. You know me. I want to tell you how I got back in the saddle for the first time since finding out I was pregnant over a year ago and it was the best therapy in the world. And how I saw and heard a rattlesnake outside our fence the other day while I was on a walk and it scared the shit out of me. And then how we watched two elk come down to water in the dam outside our house and no matter how many times we see them it’s still pretty magical.
And how the blossoms smell and how, when I call Gus back, Dolly crouches down beside me and waits to tackle him when he arrives. Every. Singe. Time. And it’s hilarious and Gus deserves all the pestering he’s receiving.
I want to tell you how I love this little boy, who just graduated from Pre-school and is on to Kindergarten in the fall, who wants to be a cop and a scientist and a cowboy and everything, he can’t pick just one.
And there’s more I have to say, you know there is, but the baby is waking in her crib an it’s time for our morning snuggle. So I’ll just leave you with this…
Happy Thursday and Happy Spring. May you find time to get out and enjoy it with your nephew and Little Sister and your Pops and your baby and your dogs…or whoever you love who you can convince to go dinosaur hunting with you…
January’s a good month to have an excuse to stay inside with a baby.
All the snuggling, singing and miles put on pacing and bouncing the burps out in front of the fireplace is as good of an activity as any when the thermometer registers well below zero.
And while I love it, I am also restless. Having spent every other winter of my life able to bundle up and hit the trail or the road on a whim sometimes sends me pressing my nose up against the window.
The light is already starting to linger longer, and this baby is already starting to hold her head up and make little noises, but I find myself daydreaming about smushing her leg rolls into a little swimming suit and hitting the beaches of the big lake this summer.
And that’s a rough daydream, because I already think she’s growing up too fast.
So in an attempt to beat cabin fever and to force myself to stay in the moment, last weekend Husband held down the fort and the pacifier and I made a plan to trek out and about around the barnyard, ignoring the fact that it was literally -20 with the windchill or something like that.
I would just stay in the low parts of the place, avoid the wind and try to squeeze my fat ass into my long underwear, under sweat pants, under snow pants I could barely button up.
I just needed to take a tally of all of the frost, put a flush in my cheeks and sweat a bit.
Because while I have a new role now as a mom, there are things I know about myself that help keep me balanced.
I need to go outside. It’s imperative for me to remain the best version of myself.
So I did.
And I froze my face off.
And came in after only about fifteen minutes.
Happy to know that all was as it should be in January.
Frosty and freezing…
Windy and white…
And pretty in a middle-of-winter sort of way.
And it felt good to be frozen, only to warm up…
with a warm fire and the best stuff waiting for me inside.
I’m a big ‘ol ticking time bomb. Any day this baby could make his or her arrival and the wait will be over.
We’re in the in-between phase. The hurry up and wait. The preparing to prepare.
I never thought I’d look like this.
I never thought I’d feel the kicks or the hiccups inside my belly or the panic that I HAVE to get the microwave clean or I might spontaneously combust.
Never thought the arches of my feet would ache like this.
Never thought I would understand the way a body wakes you up every two hours in preparation of what’s to come.
Never thought I get this big.
I just watched a cow in the pasture trying to get up from a rest, with a ‘one, two, three…heave, ho…’ sort of technique and I could relate to her.
I watched another one attempt to lay down, and I nodded my head in solidarity.
It’s weird. And most of the time it’s not so pretty. Just last week I had a mental breakdown about moving the board games from one closet to another.
And my poor husband can’t find a thing in the kitchen because, according to him, some crazy pregnant lady keeps rearranging things.
I don’t believe him. I have no recollection of such acts. I tell him maybe it’s him who’s going crazy.
I don’t know who’s rearranging the kitchen, but I do know I have the strongest urge to vacuum right now. And last week I felt just as urgent about capturing a few photos of what the two of us look like in this phase of ‘pre-parenthood.’
So I forced my little sister to take some, right after I finished the donut she brought me from town. The poor thing didn’t know what was coming, but she did a great job (and she’s not even the sister of mine who’s an actual photographer).
Anyway, in a couple weeks (or tomorrow or the next day) we will be three.
But here we are, still just the two of us (sort of) and counting down the days.
I don’t think my husband has ever taken a better photo, he’s just sort of radiating, a smile as big as his wife’s belly.
“You should have seen it out in the east pasture,” Husband told me when he got in from searching for stray bulls last week. “It was so colorful, like God dropped a bag of Skittles from the sky.”
It was an adorable statement coming from the scruffy, sorta smelly man sitting next to me.
And I was immediately jealous.
Although I can see it from outside my windows and on my slow strolls on the trails there’s nothing like experiencing fall on the back of a horse.
So Monday I did the next best thing and convinced Husband to take a little 4-wheeler drive with me to our favorite pasture so I could take photos from the tops of the hills and feel like I got my fix of it.
He never says no to ideas like this. It means that he doesn’t have to be cooped up in the basement putting up walls and wiring and things like that. It means that he can spend a little more time behind those binoculars looking for elk or deer or coyotes or mountain lions or whatever a man hopes to find on the other side of the glass.
I never hope to find a mountain lion.
That’s one difference between the two of us I guess.
Now a 4-wheeler these days isn’t my preferred mode of transportation. Every bump and wiggle sort of bounces me and this baby I’m cooking the wrong way, although she doesn’t seem to mind, because when we’re moving is the only time she’s sitting still.
And that’s terrifying and reassuring all at the same time.
But all that bumping around sends me popping a squat behind a bullberry bush at least once before I make it back to our front door.
If I need help initiating labor, I tell you, I know every stubble field and bumpy trail we can ride across to move it along. Let’ s hope that it doesn’t come to that.
But oh, it was worth it to take the trip back there. Everything is so gold it’s almost unreal. I kept checking my camera to make sure it was on the right setting, as if my eyes were lying to me.
But they weren’t. It’s just plain beautiful out here in this prolonged fall we’ve been given. Usually by now we might have already had a dusting of snow or a couple pretty chilly days, but not this year. This year my garden’s still growing, the sun is still shining a nice and comfortable 70+ degrees and the flies are still somehow finding their annoying way in to this house through some mysterious crack somewhere so they can die on the tallest and hardest to clean window ledge in the entire place.
When the sun started to cast long shadows and darken the valleys we headed toward home in the rapidly dropping temperature. That’s the thing about fall, it goes from 39 degrees, to 70 and back to 39 in a short 12 hour period. I was starting to wish for my mittens when Husband stopped his 4-wheeler by the place we cut our first Christmas tree as a married couple.
And got the pickup stuck to the floorboards in the snow.
And rocked and pushed and spun so much that our poor new puppy Hondo got sick and shit all over the pickup.
“Remember this spot?” he asked.
“I sure do,” I said.
“There’s a tree right there,” he said as he pointed to a 20 foot cedar, big enough to bring to Times Square.
“There will be no Charley Brown, spindly Christmas tree this year. Not for this kid’s first Christmas,” he said.
I shook my head and we bounced along our merry way, in between seasons, in the weather and in our lives.
In the calm before the storm, the warm before the cool down,
The wait before everything changes…
Watch my “Work (Girl)” Music Video
off my new Nashville album “Northern Lights”
Fall is creeping up on us, slowly changing the leaves on the trees from green to gold and bouncing the weather back and forth from 90 degrees to 60 in a matter of 24 hours.
Last night we had a nice, loud thunderstorm that dumped a good soak on us. It tamed the dust and softened the crispiness of this season.
But before it rained I went out wandering in the hills to take some photos. The wind was so still, the temperature was perfect and I liked the way the overcast sky looked like a blue blanket above us.
I’ve been moving a little slower lately and the bending over to capture the small details of the landscape leaves me huffing.
Give me a month and this slow walk will have turned into a full on waddle, but I just can’t stand to stay inside, especially on these beautiful days.
In the moments I have to myself in these last months of pregnancy, I can’t comprehend how our lives are going to change and I can’t help but visualize taking this same walk next year with a baby in tow, or waiting back at the house with Husband while I take a moment…
Because it’s always been the moving, the walking, the riding, the driving, that’s kept me motivated and inspired.
Soon I know our lives are going to slow down and speed up all at the same time and adventure will take on a whole new meaning.
For now I’ve charged myself with trying to enjoy what’s left of carrying this kid along inside of me… the kicks, the heartburn, the plans for the nursery and this body of mine that finally got a chance to show me what it can do.
It can climb up the buttes and grow a human at the same time. That’s pretty miraculous.
It’s nature at its finest and that’s just the sort of thing I marvel at outside the doors of this house every day.
A good rain cloud has settled in over the landscape this morning, giving everything a nice cool down and a much needed drink.
I can’t believe we’re in approaching the middle of August, the month the kids go back to school. The month that turns the green grass and the wheat gold, the month that reminds us that summer is almost over.
I’m getting the hint, like I do every summer that seems to stretch out ahead of me like an endless dream of sun soaking, berry picking, garden growing, lake swimming heaven, until I blink and find myself in August.
So every chance I get these days, I take the dogs and my belly and we go out poking around.
Because I want to absorb this green into my skin. I want to remember the scratch of the grass on my bare legs and the smell of hay being cut in the fields when winter comes to wrap us in a cold blanket.
In the past years of course I would do much more of this on the back of my horse, but this year I have stayed on foot, not wanting to risk a fall. The circumstances too precious.
So I’ve spent this summer on my own to feet.
And next summer two new chubby feet will join the team.
Last night I had a dream that I was finally holding this baby.
I keep having dreams that she’s here.
Or he’s here.
And in these dreams she grows up fast, from birth to talking and walking in the course of a day and I wonder where that tiny baby went.
I think, “don’t they stay little for longer?”
And then I wake up and find myself in my bed, my belly still full with a tiny, moving, growing human that I dreamed of but haven’t met yet, a new life stretching out in front of me like an endless dream.
A new life stretching out in front of me…like summer.
The summer has never looked better around here. Despite the crazy months that lead up to late June, I have taken a moment or two to admire how the grass is growing and how happy the cattle look out there munching away.
It’s funny to think that, if everything turns out according to plan, after all of these years, this will be the last summer of my life spent walking these hills with the little voice of worry and wonder about what we should do to make ourselves a family.
Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always taken to these hills to work things out, to be alone, to take a moment, to breathe. The first sixteen years of my life in these coulees were spent wandering and creating and singing and dreaming of what life would be like when I grew up and got a chance to work things out on my own.
In between then and now I spent my time visiting these hills, riding and admiring and remembering and saying “we’ll be back someday,” and then packing the car to leave again.
And in those between years, when we were juggling new jobs and new houses, learning what it means to be an adult and losing hope for the family we were trying to make, when it didn’t work out, I found my way home to these hills to cry and ask why.
Besides on the shoulder of my husband, these hills are the only place I’ve truly allowed myself to wail.
Because no one can hear you when you’re out here alone.
And the trees don’t have ears to wonder about those sorts of things.
When we finally found our way here for good, five years ago this summer, a period of time that seems so long and so short all at once, I walked these hills with many moods and agendas on my shoulders…to get my butt in shape, to work out a new career plan or creative project, to train the dog, to shoot photos of wildflowers, to check the horses in the field in the winter, to get the creative juices flowing, to ward off a bad mood, to scream at the top of my lungs or to just breathe.
Not once in the last seven years have I walked these hills without the quiet voice in the back of my mind that wondered about all those unborn babies…and the ones that might make it to this earth to be ours and grow up in these hills like we planned it.
And so I don’t really know what to do with the news that perhaps, this time, the dream might come true.
That we found a doctor and the doctor found a problem and two little white pills fixed it and now I have a belly that makes it so I can’t button my pants and a due date that makes it so I can’t schedule shows into the winter and a house full of stuff we’ve accumulated during nine years of marriage and not one closet open or one room cleared out for another human, no matter how much we hoped to plan for this one day.
Because despite the hope, we just kept living, filling those closets and filling our lives with work and things and people we love, because that’s what you do when plans don’t work out, you just keep living the best way you know how.
But what do you do when all of the sudden you wake up with a hunch and day by day you hope and wait and realize that maybe those plans are working out? What do you do when you realize what you’ve wanted for so long just might come to you after all, God willing…
How does a person handle being every bit as terrified as you are excited? What do you do when the people you love, upon hearing the news, congratulate you, tell you they’ve been praying, eyes swelling up with tears at the relief of it all?
We hug back and smile.
But honestly, we’re still in shock. In disbelief.
Because we don’t know how to be the normal people with a normal pregnancy and a normal plan.
We don’t know how not to be terrified.
But we also don’t know how not to be hopeful…obviously…or we would never have made it this far.
Last night after an evening spent in town saying goodbye to a friend who has become part of our family over the last couple years, we pulled into the driveway and I stripped off my town clothes and pulled on a t-shirt, pants and my walking shoes. It was a beautiful evening and I needed to climb these hills, check on the way the setting sun hit the wildflowers, let the grass brush against my legs, smell the growing things and stretch my muscles.
I think I can feel this baby move inside of my belly.
I don’t know if I’ll ever believe it.
But walking out on that trail that leads to the fields, putting the barnyard behind me, my parents’ place to my right, my favorite pasture to the left and no particular destination ahead, it was such a familiar view, a familiar thing to do, but I don’t feel like myself.
I haven’t felt like myself for months.
Perhaps I won’t ever feel like my old self out in these hills again…